When he was a middle-school student, Lloyd Knight made a deal that he called “my dad’s trade-off.” His father told him, “If you’re going to dance, you’re going to do karate.” For a while, he took karate at night. But dance won.
At 30, Knight – with the support of his family – is in his eighth season with the New York-based Martha Graham Dance Company, a soloist who has performed starring roles in works such as “Appalachian Spring.” On Saturday, as part of the UNC Charlotte Department of Dance’s annual Faculty Concert, Knight and fellow Graham company member Lorenzo Pagano will dance “Traces,” part of a larger work in progress choreographed by Kim Jones, assistant professor of dance. It will be a reunion of sorts – Jones was a dancer with Graham’s company.
“We danced together and worked together,” Knight said in an interview. “We maintained a friendship. She comes to the school often to teach.”
Knight said he was excited that Jones asked for the dancers’ thoughts and ideas. “It explores the movement vocabulary of empathy and reflection,” he said, noting that the piece is “very human and deep.”
“It’s not often that you do a duet with another guy.” Knight said it has been a learning experience. “It was perfect – it happened fast and it was great.”
It’s another chance for Knight to grow. “If you ask a lot of dancers, what do you feel about dance, they would say it’s a way to express yourself. It’s very freeing for me – the whole mind, body, spirit experience.”
Knight was born in London and moved with his family to Miami when he was about 8 years old. He attended a magnet middle school but wasn’t involved with any of the arts programs. Fortunately, his homeroom class was in the dance studio. The dance teacher invited him to a rehearsal. “I said OK, and that was it. She took me into the program, and I just fell in love with it.”
At college at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Knight was exposed to all types of dance and a roster of teachers who had been principals in their fields.
Three days a week, he trained in the work of dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, which, he said, touched him from the very beginning. “You never do a step just to do a step,” Knight said. “Everything has a purpose and a meaning.” He spent “summer intensive” sessions in New York, taking classes at the Graham school, where he made a connection with teachers and directors. During his senior year, he auditioned and had a place in the company waiting for him after he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree.
The rest of his career hasn’t always gone quite as smoothly. Like many dancers, Knight has been challenged with injuries. He took a year off to recover from a herniated disc in his lower back – “Graham is a hard technique, especially for a male dancer,” he said.
During that time away from dance, Knight had an internship at the School of American Ballet in the development department where, he said, “I learned so much about the business side of running a school and running a company.”
For now, dance remains Knight’s passion.
Along with Eric Underwood at the Royal Ballet Company and Misty Copeland at American Ballet Theatre – other African-Americans making a mark in major dance companies – Knight encourages young people to be open to all kinds of dance styles.
He returns to New World School of the Arts as often as he can. “I’ve talked with people and try to tell them if you have passion and if you want to do something, you should just go for it and do it.”
This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.
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